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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Bringing It’s All About Love to St. Peter’s-7.13.23

Hello, dear St. Peter’s family! I missed you all as I was away from the office these past few weeks. Most was for a staycation, and a visit home for my mom’s 94th birthday. Then this week, from Sunday to Wednesday I was at the It’s All About Love conference in Baltimore, offered by the national offices of The Episcopal Church.

I came back with not only lots of exciting ideas, but a mandate to help our “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” be church in a way that truly responds to the call of Jesus to help heal our broken world. And I’m taking that mandate seriously, because several times we prayed for the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and guidance to do this important work, and once I ask the Holy Spirit to enter in, I make sure all the doors and windows are open!


This was more than a conference. It was a revival for all who have stood on the edge of despair over these last four years as we were battered by the pandemic, by resistance to racial justice and repair after the murder of George Floyd, by the climate catastrophe that has made our planet that hottest it has been in its history, by violence, by attacks on civil and human rights – we know the list well.

As the co-chair of the diocese’s Anti-Racism Commission, I attended with a special interest in what my colleagues throughout the church are doing on anti-racism work. But I left with a bigger takeaway: How are we to be church in times like these? By participating in the new things that God is doing in these times!


That is the message I brought home with me, and that I bring to you on this first day back in the office. St. Peter’s is well equipped to offer our many gifts to the work.

Here is how Presiding Bishop Michael Curry put it in his opening sermon:

Together with the God who is the source of love and life, together with God we can; we can make poverty history together in partnership with God. We can do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Together with God, we can clean up this environment so that there is plenty good room for all of God’s children. Together with God, we can create societies and a world where everybody is treated as God’s somebody. Together with God, we can create a world where justice really does roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Together with God, we can learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside, to study war no more. When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.


In these past four days we discussed, practiced, prayed and committed to putting God’s love into transformative action – for racial and social justice, for addressing climate catastrophe, for the empowering and protection of LGBTQIA people, for peace. And for being communities of love where our neighbors can find hope and healing and people to share the work with.

In some ways this message isn’t too different from one I’ve heard at countless gatherings like this, which I’ve attended in various forms over the last 30 years or more. People of faith have been doing this a long time. And I also came away feeling that God is doing this in a new way now. I really believe that.

So here are some quotes and notes that are in my notebook from these amazing days. If you are energized to be a channel for the love that the Holy Spirit is empowering us with, let’s talk. And let’s all prayerfully discern how God is calling us to be a church that truly has an impact in our local community and beyond.


Daily take-aways:

  • Sunday, July 9. Listen to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s entire sermon here.

  • Monday, July 10. The Very Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, the Rev. Winnie Varghese, and the Rev. Stephanie Spellers are women of color, authors and leaders, who are at the forefront of racial repair and social justice work in the Episcopal church. Three years ago on the 4th of July they issued a profound call for the church to engage in “transformative truth telling”, especially on racism. (Read it here; it’s amazing).

Monday they reminded us that the church has yet to really rise to what God is calling us to be. “We are called to be accountable to God’s just future,” Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas said. “Not our unjust present.” Meaning that we must work on God’s future now and stop finding excuses to uphold or ignore the injustices that are currently at play. “The church has to step into the fray and into the gap… the cross is not about how Jesus died but how he lived,” Douglas said.


That has stayed with me. I am thinking deeply about ways that we can develop our own practice of Racial Repair and Justice at St. Peter’s this year.


  • Tuesday, July 11. Three young adults, Arun Sharma, Phoebe Chatfield, and Adrienne Elliot, reminded us gray-heads that our youth are actively fighting to save our burning planet, and they are waiting for us to offer the support, action and healing they need to do this without despairing. See their full plenary here – it was a call to action with many ideas on how we can invite our young people to a church that supports them and joins them in the work.


  • Wednesday, July 12. At the final plenary session (view it here) Jerusalem Greer, the presiding bishop’s staff officer for evangelism, and Brian D. McLaren, public theologian and author of Do I Stay Christian?” discussed the new things that God is calling us to as church. I was struck by a point they made on how a love for the outdoors and a concern for the planet and its climate really unites most people, whether they be people of faith or people with no tradition. This is an insight that surfaced in the 2022 study “Jesus in America,” which the Episcopal Church commissioned with Ipsos. That got me thinking -- Perhaps we should focus some of our efforts there – in outdoor liturgy, community gardening, creation care work, hikes, camping trips, invasive species removal, and the like. What do you think?

Given this call to join in the new thing that God is doing, I’m excited about the efforts we are already planning for the program year at St. Peter’s. And I hope you will continue to listen prayerfully and attentively with me as we discern how God is calling us ever more deeply into the amazing work that is in store for us.

Blessings, Rev. Barb.

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